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The Mesh Report (October 11) issue disclosed President Obama was confident that he won at the first Presidential debate with Mitt Romney in the article titled “Clueless: Obama thought he won debate until told otherwise.” It begins with the following sentence:

According to an article in the Daily Mail UK, President Obama walked off the stage after his underwhelming debate performance convinced he was the winner. - - - Obama was content that he had delivered the rhetorical goods. He only realized he sank like a Chevy Volt dropped in water after his senior aides broke the news to the surprised, and disturbingly oblivious, Commander in Chief. Apparently, the most transparent President in history in also the least self-aware.

I came across the expression, “sink like a Chevy Volt dropped in water” for the first time. What does it mean? Does it mean something heavy that dropped deep under water and is unrecoverable? Why is it a Chevy Volt other than a truck, power shovel or bulldozer? Is this a well-used simile?

I’m also not clear with the meaning of the line, “President Obama is the most transparent President in history.” In respect to what – money matter, policy/agenda setting, his personal character, or his logic and rhetoric of speech – is Mr. Obama “the most transparent President in the history”?

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My judgment is that it's a poor simile. A Chevy Volt is a combined electric engine/gasoline engine car. Like almost every other car, it doesn't float because it's not a boat. Maybe the Daily Mail had just reviewed the Chevy Volt, so using that "lead balloon" substitute (It went over like a lead balloon) was timely for the journalist. –  user21497 Nov 19 '12 at 4:32
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I agree with @BillFranke: the simile feels forced in the extreme. –  Robusto Nov 19 '12 at 4:41
    
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevrolet_Volt -- Should have checked Wiki, not ELU. –  Kris Nov 19 '12 at 10:21
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@Kris: the question is about the metaphor, not about the Volt. The word "sink" appears nowhere in the Wiki article, although this sentence does: "During the Volt development the lithium-ion battery pack was subjected to a wide range of tests, including overcharge, discharge, vibration, excessive heat and cold, short circuit, humidity, fire, crush, water immersion, salt water immersion, and nail penetration." Still, that hardly answers the O.P.'s question. –  J.R. Nov 19 '12 at 11:03
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2 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

It means the author is trying too hard. I think he is trying to combine the idiom sink like a stone with a snide reference to the money the US government has poured into General Motors and electric cars. There may be hints of go down like a lead balloon in there, too.

Transparency here probably refers to exposing the process of decision making to public scrutiny. It has nothing to do with Obama's understanding of how his speech was received.

It's a poor piece of writing -- I'm sure you're not the only confused reader.

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I'm not going to answer the Volt-in-water metaphor, because I think Pitarou's answer nailed it.

I would like to offer a different theory on "most transparent President," though.

Transparency is a hard concept to explain when applied to a person. I'd define it as an antonym of guarded, and a synonym of sincere. It means you're not trying to paint a picture of yourself as something that you're not. You don't pretend to be unaffected when you're really disappointed, or jubilant. From NOAD:

sincere: (of a person) saying what they genuinely feel or believe; not dishonest or hypocritical.

transparent: having thoughts, feelings, or motives that are easily perceived.

From American Heritage:

transparent: free from guile; candid or open

In this case, I highly doubt the author has done an in-depth study of all 43 presidents, and concluded that Obama has been the most transparent, soundly trumping Nixon and Coolidge, and edging out John Quincy Adams. Instead, I believe he's referring to at least one of three possible notions:

  1. a widely-held impression of Obama (that is, the public largely regards him as more transparent than the average politician);
  2. Obama's portrayal of himself (that is, Obama tries to paint himself as transparent in his rhetoric during his speeches);
  3. the candidate Obama (who ran on a platform of hope and change – especially during his first run).

Whether the author is referring to one of those in particular, or all three at once, I interpret the remark as a snide one. Saying that someone is the most or greatest X in history generally has two possible interpretations: either that person truly is the best X in history, or else it's a jab at a false perception, hinting that someone is more highly regarded than they ought to be. Given the overall tone of the article, I suspect it's the latter usage in this case.

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I'm pretty sure it is a veiled reference to the President's transparency in government initiative. –  Mark Thomas Nov 19 '12 at 14:11
    
@MarkThomas: That, too. Great catch. I'm glad you left that comment. –  J.R. Nov 19 '12 at 15:28
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I think you're trying too hard here. People regularly talk about how "transparent" an administration or government agency is, meaning how open or visible its workings are to the public. i.e. "transparent" is the opposite of "secretive". I could find a reference if necessary, but in Obama's first campaign he said that his administration would be the "most transparent in history" or something like that. ... –  Jay Nov 19 '12 at 17:00
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... The connection the writer is trying to make between transparency and self-awareness is not entirely clear, but I guess it's something like, "He said he would make how he worked visible to others, but he can't even make it visible to himself." But as the writer doesn't spell it out, it's not obvious what he mean. Not to me anyway. –  Jay Nov 19 '12 at 17:01
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@Jay: I agree with you, "secretive" is also a good antonym for "transparent" in this context. –  J.R. Nov 19 '12 at 18:09
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protected by RegDwigнt Nov 25 '12 at 22:27

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